Oilers Signing Murray Eliminates 3 Players’ Chances to Make Team

The Edmonton Oilers made their presence known once again with a signing in early September. The move to sign defenceman Ryan Murray to a one-year, $750,000 deal shores up the defence and brings in a solid depth defender from a Stanley Cup-winning team, even if he wasn’t dressed for any of the playoff games. This should also eliminate what should have been tough competition for the seventh defence spot on the roster.

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After the Oilers finally decided to part ways with Kris Russell in free agency, they needed a replacement as the sixth/seventh defenceman who could play effective hockey when called upon every second or third game. The top-six for the Oilers is more stabilized and it wouldn’t be great to have Philip Broberg sit out games as a rookie, so Murray should serve as the seventh defenceman. He will more than likely get a number of games in as the Oilers’ defencemen shouldn’t all stay healthy for the entire season.

Related: Oilers Will Greatly Benefit from NHL’s Expected Rise in Salary Cap

A veteran of over 400 games and the comfortability of playing a solid game when called upon will serve the Oilers well this coming season as they push for their first Stanley Cup since 1990.

Who Would Have Had a Solid Chance at Making the Oilers’ Roster on Defence

The Oilers have a trio of younger defencemen ready to make the jump to the NHL after strong seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL). Markus Niemelainen, Dmitri Samorukov, and Vincent Desharnais have all spent their fair share of time in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors and are considered the next wave of defencemen the Oilers have readily available to come up to the NHL.

Markus Niemelainen Edmonton Oilers
Markus Niemelainen, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Niemelainen got the largest trial run besides Broberg with 20 games played last season. He immediately showed off his ability to hit everything that moves and hard, further supporting the need for a defender of that style to stick around. The Oilers lost Adam Larsson in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft and Niemelainen is the closest player to replacing the physicality on the back end. He is now 24 years old and should be starting to build up to his prime. There are key years ahead for the big defenceman to prove himself as an NHL-calibre player or a career AHL player. The signing of Murray who has already played 432 regular-season games in his career makes it much harder for Niemelainen to jump yet another defenceman in order to make the Oilers this season.

The other defenceman that will have a better shot at pushing for a spot of the options available is Samorukov who worked extremely hard to erase what was a very disappointing NHL debut for himself and the team. He played just under 2:30 of ice time and was sat for the rest of the game after being put in a position to fail. He was sent down the Bakersfield right after and he has since learned from the experience. He has the talent to be an NHL defenceman, and at age 23, it’s not a make-or-break season for him yet. He has the most offensive potential of the defenders in contention and it may not be the best for him to be sitting on the bench if he were to make the Oilers out of training camp. His chances went down now and will likely have to prove he should be the first callup if the defencemen on the Oilers start to get injured again and miss time. He is the only member of the three not waiver exempt, so it could make things more complicated for him.

Dmitri Samorukov Bakersfield Condors
Dmitri Samorukov, Bakersfield Condors (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Desharnais is a different case. He is 26 years old and seemingly came out of nowhere last year for the Condors. It wasn’t enough to earn him a shot in the NHL yet, but he established himself as a force in the AHL. The 6-foot-7 defender was playing in the ECHL in 2020-21 and discovered an offensive side of his game last season that propelled him up the depth charts. He is past the age where young players need to be protected for development and could be the option to serve as the seventh defenceman on the Oilers without the risk of stunting development. It would be good to have someone of his size and ability close to the team. If he is a late bloomer and last season wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

There is one more option who the Oilers would have considered as the seventh defenceman, and that’s Slater Koekkoek. He served in this role a bit over the past two seasons but found himself pushed out and in the minors for the last half of 2021-22. He could have had a shot at slotting in as the seventh defenceman to begin this season, but Murray is the cheaper and better option who hasn’t recently been playing in the AHL as Koekkoek has.

Does Murray Take Time Away From Anyone on the Oilers?

The question asked, does Murray take playing time away from any of the projected top six of the Oilers, is no. Ken Holland has stated, keep in mind this was before signing Murray, that Broberg would have to play his way off the team. It makes little sense to have someone of his potential sitting in the press box instead of playing every night if he can.

Philip Broberg Edmonton Oilers
Philip Broberg, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Murray’s contract indicates there is no expectation more than filling in the lineup when needed. Broberg has the potential to be a top-four defenceman on the left side and should grow into that within the next couple of seasons. He is going to get the same opportunity Evan Bouchard got last season, starting on the third pairing. Like Bouchard, I expect Broberg to excel and force his way up the lineup eventually.

Murray is a left defenceman, and for someone who averaged just 14 minutes of ice time last season, he isn’t getting playing time over Brett Kulak or one of the right defencemen either. Putting up four assists in 37 games, Murray knows his role and will benefit the Oilers throughout the season as he did for the Stanley Cup winners last season.

Murray is a good signing for the Oilers in a crucial year where they must at least repeat the success of last season. There are question marks around Niemelainen, Samorukov, and Desharnais still as they have a combined 21 games in the NHL. Experience will benefit the Oilers right now and more than likely take away the chance any of the three defencemen have at making the team out of training camp. However, things could change throughout the season and any could be given a shot.

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